WASHINGTON (CN) - In a sweeping change to current practice, President Obama has ordered that all federal agencies presume that documents and records they produce will not be considered "classified" unless disclosure reasonably could be expected to compromise national security. Obama also ordered that almost all classified material will be declassified after 25 years.
In two Executive Orders dated Dec. 29, the president further limited the authority of employees of federal agencies to categorize material based on the level of classification, allowing, for instance, only the president, vice president and agency heads and officials designated by the president to declare information "Top Secret".
The orders eliminate the practice of indefinitely classifying information as restricted from the public, and require that each agency develop a time table for declassification of material with a default of 10 years unless it is highly sensitive, in which case it my remain classified for 25 years.
All classified material automatically will be declassified after 25 years, without prior review, unless declassification is appealed by an agency head because disclosure would jeopardize the identity of a living confidential human source, compromise an ongoing operation, or reveal information that would assist in the development, production or use of weapons of mass destruction.
In a win for government watchdog organizations, the press and defense lawyers in federal trials, information that has been disclosed and was not classified at the time of its disclosure can not be retroactively classified.
However, federal agencies retain the right to classify information sought through a Freedom of Information Act request that has not previously been classified or disclosed.
In a related action, Obama also issued a Presidential Memorandum instructing the heads of all federal agencies to develop policies and procedures to implement the two Executive Orders issued on classification of government information.